An article addressing the often jaded response from the radical left on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Don't you DARE turn these bright rainbows of limitless possibility into another dreary downpour of boring grey raindrops on Bay Street on October 15th! Keep your cheerless sniffs and sneers, your cringe-inducing and silencing accusations to yourselves. Wipe those dour smirks of smugness off your faces. Save the sanctimonious nitpicking for later. Take your pet issue and shove it. Talk to someone other than your circle of like-minded cronies and allies. Let's carpe fucking diem on this one, eh? The way this world is going, many of us may not get another chance.
Professional activists, radical Eeyores and oppression olympians: I hear your muttering and I call you out. Hands off these newer movements for social justice sprouting in the streets of North American cities! Give them some air. Let them grow. The protesters in New York and elsewhere might lack analysis and their politics might need critique. They might not come up with goals or tactics that make sense to you. They might not look like you, talk like you or agree with you. There are exclusions, to be sure, and privilege always rears its ugly head. There are also, from what I've seen so far, honest, compassionate and collective attempts to remedy the inevitable political and logistical problems that come with getting hugely disparate groups of people together and trying to make change. Occupy Wall Street isn't an organization. It's a living, breathing process, a big old improvised street performance, a series of creative acts. It might be flawed. So what? Didn't we learn from the last century that purity in politics is for the fanatical few? Don't we still have much to learn from each other, no matter where we're at?
Like many others, I am tremendously energized by the events on Wall Street, particularly by the sense that more than "the usual suspects" are participating, by the idea that a popular movement can swell and add people to its ranks who have not been activists, who do not usually demonstrate, who do not easily use the language of class war, capitalism and oppression. American people, moreover, who have been and continue to be consistently manipulated and lied to by an enormously powerful propaganda machine, who grew up under a succession of neo-liberal regimes, who have spent most or all of their lives having it repeatedly drummed into them that there is no alternative; people who have no health care and no social safety net. Knowing that Americans could finally muster up the anger and the courage to get out, stay out and demonstrate on Wall Street struck a ray of light into this cynical heart right from the start and since then, it's just been getting better and better.
So, I'm feeling a bit protective of this movement and a bit dismayed to think that if it comes to Bay Street in Toronto, it might be beset by all the waffling, shuffling and tokenistic gesturing that we on "the left" use to cast webs around juicy movements and suck the life out of them, while intoning our stale old mantras and checking off our speakers' lists. There's always someone who's got to apologize for not getting it right and plenty of us around to point out their sins. Mea maxima culpa. But, as I struggle to practise self-awareness, the more I see that behaving in this way just turns people off. There are alternatives. There is activism that doesn't just judge, position, denounce and condemn. There is activism that beckons, that dances, that encourages and that inspires. And that's a hell of a lot more fun than wrapping yourself in anger and beating up on your comrades.
Since when did we become such a bunch of clucking naysayers when it comes to transformative mass social action? Is it because we're all so terrorized by 30 years of trickle-down that we insist on making revolution perfect? None of us are perfect nor can we ever be, as individuals or collectively. We are individually and collectively capable of great injustices. But what I've been seeing on the faces of those people in New York, even as they were getting pepper-sprayed and arrested in the hundreds, was something I haven't seen in North America in my lifetime, at least not in such numbers (and if you've been part of such a struggle and have already seen it, I envy you); a certain crazy kind of joy, a wonderful and utterly infectious exhilaration, conveying above all a sense of the potential of this uprising. It might even be, to paraphrase those lovely words of Arundhathi Roy, the preliminary kicks of that other possible world. Can you hear her breathing? I thought perhaps, here and there, I could, reading newly jubilant accounts of assemblies and marches, seeing photos of a phalanx of pilots, a rage of Marines, a forest of brightly-marked cardboard signs all naming our collective wisdom, making it new. And if it isn't another world breathing just yet, there may be a few last promising gasps of democracy in this corporate-infested one that make me want to grab the defibrillator and yell, "Clear!"
Of course, the Occupy movement isn't a unique and unprecedented struggle, nor should it take preeminence over other resistance struggles. It is part of something much, much bigger than whichever patches of paved paradise the protesters are sitting, standing and marching on -- a history of colonialism, capitalism and resistance. After centuries of sacrifices and brave struggles mounted by those in the Global South, indigenous peoples, activists and decolonizers, we here in the belly of the beast owe it to all of those who have resisted in so many forms to seize on whatever opportunities may arise. Let's try not to screw it up for each other. Let's try to make it grow.
I'll see you in Toronto this October. Let's dance like it really might be a revolution. You never know who might join us.
Originally posted: October 4, 2011 on rabble.ca